~I Wish That I Could Tell You Something, To Take It All Away~
Clint let out a snicker at Tony's latest antics to get under Fury's skin. Currently, he was reprograming all of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s computers to perform in Asgardian and he had also programed the intercoms to blast the Imperial March every time someone walked through the automatic doors of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s main room. To say that the sight of Director Fury marching into the room, his usual black cloak flowing behind him and the Dark Lord's theme announcing his presence had been fairly entertaining could quite possibly be the understatement of the century.
It had gotten even better when Fury had called Thor in to switch all the computers back. Claiming that he rather liked the music that played when he walked in, he demanded it be played every time and in every room. After Tony had explained to him the story behind the music however, the god of thunder's opinion rapidly changed. He had ordered the billionaire to change the song to something more becoming. More catchy. More...well more Thorish. To which Tony suggested 'Super Freak'. After a few more minutes of bickering between the two and Fury's threats to have Tony's ass suspended from all of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s tech (yea, like that could ever happen) the computers had been switched back and both the Director and the god of thunder had left to discuss...Asgardian related things.
Clint could honestly not remember the last time he had laughed so hard. It was nice though. He liked being around his new found friends because they had the ability to make the archer forget anything and everything that had occurred in the past few months. Before he had always been cautious when it came to working with or trusting others, the only ones he truly trusted being Natasha, Fury, occasionally Hill and...Phil. Clint hadn't been able to handle it when he heard the news about Phil. He had felt so alone and betrayed. Most of all however, he felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. He had no idea what he would have done had it not been for everyone's stubbornness. They absolutely refused to let him feel any of those things. They refused to let his life continue its downward spiral. Most of all, they absolutely refused to let him feel like he was alone. Whether the expert marksman liked it or not, he was now apart of a team. And even though he never came outright and said it, he was eternally grateful for this.
It also helped that none of them cared about what he had done. They claimed that there was no reason to be angry with him because he had had no control over what had happened. He knew that what they were saying was true, but he could only bring himself to half believe it. Still it was nice to know that he at least still had a few fans left. He really didn't know what he would if every single person had hated him. Ever since the Avengers had defeated the Chitauri, saved Manhattan and sent Loki back to Asgard, things had slowly taken a turn for the worse. He didn't really know what he had been expecting.
He had known that there were going to be a lot of S.H.I.E.L.D. personelle that would be nervous and skeptical of his presence, but he had honestly not been expecting it to be this bad. Sure he may have come across as uncaring and nonchalant from time to time but truthfully all the stares and whispered insults had been tearing him apart inside. They hated him. And not just 'Oh my God! That bitch stole my man' hate. They truly and sincerely could not stand the thought of him. They wanted him gone. Fired. Some of them even wanted him dead or to suffer greatly for the pain he had caused them. Like he could really blame them. He sighed as he shifted in his seat, only half listening now to Tony's rant on how S.H.I.E.L.D. consisted of a bunch of ass holes who had absolutely no idea how to take a little joke.
Bruce, who had also been sitting there and quietly enjoying the show, felt his eyes travel towards the team's archer and his closest friend besides Tony. His eyes narrowed in concern as he studied his now to quiet comrade. Clint's face displayed a distant and empty look that rather worried him. He wasn't too sure if anybody else, save for Natasha, had noticed just how much of a toll everything was taking on their youngest teammate, but he did. The doctor had not quite bought it when Clint claimed that everything was fine and that he was beginning to move on. He could see just how much this whole ordeaal was destroying his friend on the inside and he was damn worried. He knew there was something more and he was pretty sure it had something to do with Phil's death and, to a certain extent, the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. The gamma radiation expert was torn from his musings as he saw Clint make a move to get up. Before Bruce could stop or talk to him, he saw the younger man tense up. His trained eyes were focused on the main entrance and his fists were clenching and unclenching in deep agitation. Apparently, Tony had paused his rant long enough to take notice as well.
"Um, Legolas? Everything ok there?"
Clint seemingly hadn't heard him and he continued to stare at the entrance. His two friends glanced at each other in confusion before turning to see what the archer was glaring at. They didn't see anything however. Except two agents that had just entered. This though seemed to be what had gotten Clint so worked up. Even more confused than ever, the doctor and the billionaire kept looking between the archer and the agents who had just now noticed them. At first glance, the newcomers appeared harmless. There didn't really seem any plausible reason to pay them any attention. Upon further inspection however, they saw something was off. They couldn't quite place it but the vibe they were getting from these men was not one they really favored.
"Clint?" Bruce questioned as he reached out a hand to touch his friend's shoulder. "Clint, is everything ok? Who are those guys?"
Clint seemed to shake himself out of whatever trance he'd been in as he turned towards his friends and offered up a strained smile. "They're no one. It's nothing guys." He glanced towards the men again and cursed as he realized that they were coming towards him. "Shit. I have to go." He didn't get five steps before the agents had reached them.
"Hey Barton. Haven't seen you in a while." The tallest one, who also appeared to be the leader, spoke in a taunting voice.
He was a middle-aged man, probably in his late 40's, with flaming red hair and eerily icy blue eyes. Tony instantly hated the guy for two reasons. One, he seemed to be an utter and complete narcissistic asshole and that was the billionaire's job, nobody else's. And two, he appeared to be causing his friend a great amount of stress, which was also Tony's job because as a friend it was in the job description. Again, not Gingy's place.
"Where're you going, traitor?" The red head continued eyes narrowing as he stared at the archer in contempt.
"Where I go and what I do is none of your damn business." He retorted through clenched teeth.
"Why? Off to kill more fellow agents?" Gingy asked, laughing coldly.
The younger agent stiffened at the gibe, hands clenching once more.
"What? That upset you?" This time the second agent, that was maybe just a little too pudgy around the middle, spoke up. He laughed cruelly at the pained look that flashed across Clint's face. "Not like he's saying anything that isn't true."
Clint felt himself start to shake as a number of emotions ran through him. Anger at these assholes for disturbing him. Fear because they were right about everything they said. "I had no cont-"
"What? No control? You really think anyone buys that shit?" The second man, who was about an inch or so taller than the archer, came up so he was right in Clint's face.
Gingy spoke up again, coming to stand behind the younger man so he was somewhat cornered. "How does one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s finest allow himself to become brainwashed? Huh? Face it Barton. You've become nothing but a low life killer. It's only a matter of time before Fury gets rid of ya. Just like he should've long ago."
Pillsbury, as Tony had dubbed the second man, grunted in agreement. "We all lost something and someone we loved that day. All because of you and your damned arrows. You don't deserve the title of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. You don't even deserve to be alive. Tell me how it's fair that you're here when they're not. Collin and I oughta kill you right now. Lord knows it'll be a favor to everyone here."
Tony decided that he had had enough. With his fists clenched tight he walked up to 'Pillsbury' and punched him so hard, the agent was sent flying. All activity in the room ceased as the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent landed with a loud thud. Everyone looked from the man on the floor to the billionaire who was currently standing over his body. Most recoiled when they saw Tony. He was seething. Literally seething. His face was dark with barely controlled rage and he continued to clench his fists. They became even more unnerved when he began to speak.
"Listen here you fucking bastard and you listen well." He gestured behind him to Clint who was still standing by the conference table in a slight daze. "That man is one of the best people I've met in this entire fucking lifetime and he's one of my closest friends. He is twice the man you'll ever be and you'd be lucky to be even half as good as him. He had no control over anything that happened while under Loki's spell and after he was released, he could've ran but he didn't. He stayed and saved the fucking world and S.H.I.E.L.D. including you two."
Colin, who had stayed where he was watching the scene unfold, sneered at Tony. "What? You're actually defending the little shit? What'd he have to do to score you?" He turned towards Clint and glared down at him. "You whoring around now to get sympathy huh? Just like you did with Coulson? Everyone here knows that's the real reason you progressed so quickly at S.H.I.E.L.D."
Clint felt his breath hitch at the mention of his old handler. His breathing became ragged and he took a step back. Bruce, who had been trying and basically failing to keep his anger and temper in check stepped in this time.
"I think you gentlemen might want to back off, yeah. Before you say or do something you really regret." His eyes were slowly becoming darker and more green the longer he was forced to associate with these lowlifes. The red headed agent tried suppressing a shiver at the anger that rolled off the gamma radiation scientist in waves. Unfortunately though, he pushed on.
"Why? Why the hell should I huh? He fucking deserves it. And you have no right to tall me what to do monster." He turned towards Bruce and stepped towards him in a menacing manner.
Bruce would've responded, probably by Hulking out and smashing this guy like there was no tomorrow, but he didn't get the chance.
Colin was now doubled over in pain as Clint stood over him, eyes narrowed. "Leave him out of this Colin. He has nothing to do with this. Your fight's with me."
Colin scoffed as he regained his breath and stood to his full height. "What're you gonna do boy? Kill me like you killed the others?" He smirked before continuing. "Like you killed Coulson?"
All activity ceased once more. Nobody talked and nobody moved. They all just stared at the the two agents. Colin chuckled darkly at the emotional turmoil that flashed across the archer's face. Pain, guilt, anger, sadness. He pressed on. "That's right Barton. You may not have been the one to stab him but it was still your fault. All of it. You killed an innocent man."
Before anyone could react, Clint had sent the older agent flying with one fierce punch and in very few swift strides, he was across the room and out the door. It was silent for what felt like hours before, once again, Tony was yelling.
"What the hell is your damn problem?" Tony stalked over to the now downed agent and grabbed him by the front of his shirt in anger. "Have none of you idiotic assholes noticed how much this whole ordeal has affected him? You had no right to bring any of that up. I oughta-"
"Tony." He was cut off by Bruce who was now doubled over the conference table in discomfort. His skin rippled and spasmed rather violently as he fought to keep the 'other guy' contained. Though at this point he and Tony both probably wouldn't mind letting him out so he could teach these bastards a thing or two. Not only was Clint good friends with Bruce but he had also become very close to the Hulk and the Hulk in turn had become very watchful and protective of his Cupid. If Bruce and Tony weren't too happy with the way these guys had treated their friend, the doctor shuddered to think how the Hulk would handle it.
Tony's eyes widened in realization as he all but ran to Bruce's side. "Shit. We need to get you out of here right now Doc."
"Gee," another painful spasm. "You think?" Bruce inwardly cursed as he looked down at his hands and began to see green.
"Yeah, I don't know about you but I think it's a good idea. Just thought I'd share." Tony weakly joked as he began to drag off the frazzled man, leaving the new top two guys on his personal hit list and everyone else forgotten. "I know the both of you can hear me. Let's not do anything rash."
Bruce's head snapped towards Tony to look the billionaire in the eyes. Tony winced as he saw his eyes flash to the Hulk's. His eyes seemed to scream, "Come on! Let me at least beat them around for a little bit."
Tony gave a half hearted chuckle as he led the still violently shaking scientist a few feet outside the room. "I know, believe me. I would love nothing more than for you and me both to go beat the hell out of those bastards but we both know that Fury wouldn't be to happy with that and it wouldn't end well for you and the 'other guy'." It was silent for a few moments before Tony continued. "And you know that's the last thing Clint would want. If anything, try and control it for him."
Bruce shakily sighed and nodded as he focused on calming his breathing and emotions. He slowly sank down to the ground, his aching back against the wall, and rested his head between his knees. Tony stood off to the side not really sure what to do with himself. He was about to ask Bruce if he wanted to go blow off some steam in the gym when another voice cut in.
"Stark. Banner. What the hell is going on?"
Tony groaned inwardly as he turned around to find that he was staring into the eyes of one very pissed off looking Natasha. The billionaire almost shuddered in fear at her steel gaze even though he knew it wasn't technically directed at him. They stared silently at each other for what seemed like hours but, in reality, was actually seconds. After a while she let loose what Tony thought to be a frustrated sigh but Tony wasn't sure seeing as how it almost sounded feral. Only Natasha. He glanced over her shoulder to see Steve and Maria Hill also waiting expectantly for a reply.
"I'm guessing you saw Barton then?" He sighed as he rubbed a callused hand through his hair tiredly. It wasn't even 11 o'clock and it had already been a long day.
Maria nodded in affirmation as she came to stand beside Natasha. "About five minutes ago or so, yes."
For a fraction of a second, Tony coud've sworn he saw a glint of concern flash across her icy blue eyes but just like that, it was gone.
"He bumped into us while we were on our way to the conference room and he looked...well a little more than upset. Haunted even." This time Steve spoke up from where he was currently kneeling next to Bruce. "He looked like he'd just gone through his own personal hell. All over again." The super soldier glanced up at Tony with questioning eyes.
"So what happened?" Steve's leader voice began to take over as he once more stood back up.
"Oh nothing much really. Oh, except Gingy and the Pillsbury Dough Boy in there decided it would be fun to basically accuse Clint of treason, murder. Everything that we've been trying to convince him he's not responsible for. You know, the usual." He replied sarcastically trying to alleviate some of the tension that seemed to be smothering everyone right now.
Natasha's eyes narrowed dangerously. "What did they say?" She ground out, hands menacingly grazing over her stingers.
Bruce was the one to answer this time as he looked up from where he had been cradling his head against his knees. "They blamed him for everything. Loki's attack. Being under his control." He paused a second before continuing, feeling the remnants of his earlier anger beginning to simmer again. "Phil's death."
Natasha cursed in Russian as she slammed her fist into a nearby wall. Her eyes had narrowed even more, if that was possible, and they had taken on a murderous look. Steve and Maria weren't any better. The leader of the Avengers was glaring at the doors to the conference room where he new the culprits had to be and Fury's assistant...well, Bruce wasn't sure if he should be more frightened of her or the fuming Russian. The gamma radiation expert was almost scared to tell them anything else. Almost. It would be worse if he didn't. "They also said that he was undeserving of his position at S.H.I.E.L.D. and that he whored around with everybody to get where he is. Especially with Phil." Out of the corner of his eye, Bruce saw Maria and Natasha exchange a worried look before directing their attention back to him. "They also said that if the others were dead, he didn't deserve to be living. They threatened to kill him."
"Who the hell were these guys?" Maria demanded, stepping forward. Her eyes were alight with an anger that Bruce, Tony and Steve had never seen her display before.
"I believe one of them called the other Collin." Bruce replied unsure as he shrugged his shoulders.
Natasha's head snapped towards him as realization seeped into her eyes. "Michael Collin?"
"Yea I guess." Tony spoke up. "Red hair. Creepy blue eyes. About yay high. Friends with the Pillsbury Dough Boy."
The ex-Russian Spy nodded vigorously in confirmation as Tony rattled off descriptions. "Michael Collin and James Moore. Should've known."
"Wait, why?" Steve questioned as he looked around the room feeling as if he had missed something. Tony and Bruce just shrugged when he looked their way. Steve looked back at the only female Avenger. "Have they been trouble before?"
Maria's lips were now set in a thin line as she pinched the bridge of her nose in irritation. "Yes, unfortunately. They have never bothered to cover up their issues with Clint in the past."
Tony threw up his hands in bewilderment as he stared incredulously at Fury's assistant. "Then why the hell haven't they been dealt with before?"
"Because it's never been a problem before now." Maria snapped.
Tony bit back the snide comeback that was creeping on the tip of his tongue. He sighed in defeat as he slid down to the ground to join Bruce. "Then what are you gonna do now?"
"You leave that to us." Maria replied a now determined look taking over. She motioned for Natasha to follow her and together, they entered the conference room to take care of the now surely dead agents.
The three men left in the hallway glanced wearily at each other as they thought about the wrath that had just been brought upon the unsuspecting agents. Steve kept looking between his two teammates and the direction where he had last seen Clint heading. His eyes were clouded with concern for the team's archer and he desperately wanted to go and check up on him. Noticing this, Tony nudged his shoulder. The captain turned to look at him in question.
"Someone needs to go check on him Cap. Probably should be you. You know, since you're the best at all this listening to people and giving advice shit."
Steve just raised an eyebrow as he gave a small half hearted chuckle. Standing up, he gave one last glance to the two scientists on the floor. "You guys gonna be ok?"
Tony lazily waved him off. "Yea so long as we don't have to deal with anymore assholes today."
Steve only nodded as he set off down the hallway. As he disappeared, a series of voices carried out from behind the conference room doors. Tony and Bruce both winced as they picked out Natasha and Maria's angry voices from within.
"You know," Tony began, "at this point, I do believe that they would've been better off facing against the Hulk."
"Yea, you're probably right." Bruce nodded in agreement, wincing as a loud crash sounded from within the room.
It took Steve the better part of half an hour before he finally located his missing teammate. Clint was currently sitting near the railing of one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s many sky decks, legs dangling over the edge as he rested his arms on one of the bars. Steve felt his heart clench slightly at how broken and defeated his teammate appeared to be. He hesitated now, not really sure how best to approach Clint. That problem was however taken care of for him when the archer spoke up form his perch.
"I don't bite, you know."
Steve laughed slightly as he slowly made his way over to the railing. He looked over the edge at the view that currently held his friend's attention. His first thought was of how breathtaking it was. From where they were, he could see all of Manhattan island. All the enormous monuments and the towering buildings glistened in the sunlight and beyond them, stray wisps of white dotted the brilliantly blue sky. No wonder the archer often spent time up here. Steve might have to start doing the same since he felt the sudden urge draw this gorgeous scene. He mentally slapped himself as he realized his mind was straying from the current situation at hand. He slowly took a seat beside Clint.
It was silent for a few more moments before he spoke. "Do you uh, wanna talk about it?" Steve questioned.
Clint gently shook his head as he continued to stare off into the distance.
Steve sighed as he thought of what else to say. "Do you want me to stay?"
There was nothing but silence for a few moments. Steve was about ready to get up and leave when he hear a small voice come from his younger teammate.
"You don't have to leave if you don't want to." Clint was now staring at Steve out of the corner of his eye.
Steve nodded and made himself more comfortable. They settled into somewhat of a comfortable silence for a long time, neither willing to break it. After about an hour or two, Steve finally found the nerve to brush up on the delicate subject.
"I uh...I heard what happend back there." He got no response from Clint other than him shifting his body ever so slightly. Neither a request to stop or go on, so the super soldier chose to continue. "Clint, you've gotta understand that no one blames you for that day. Not me. Not Tony or Bruce or Natasha or any of your teammates. You were under a madman's control and you couldn't have stopped the inevitable if you had tried. I don't think any of us could have." He would've continued but he was interrupted by Clint.
"You don't get it Steve. That's just it. People do blame me. They do hold me responsible." The young archer had gotten up by now and he was pacing in obvious agitation and turmoil. "They hate me. They want me dead. And you know what? I don't blame them. Not at all. Why the hell should I? It's not like their wrong. I took innocent lives. I...," he swallowed the lump in his throat, refusing to cry. "I killed Phil."
At this point, Steve had heard enough. He angrily stood up and brought himself to his full height so he was towering over Clint. "No Clint. You're wrong. They're wrong. Listen to me. You. Had. No. Control. They're all wrong about you. In all my years, I have never met anyone who is as dedicated and loyal as you are. You are a good man with an even greater heart and you deserve all the good things you have received in your life. Screw what those other guys said. You are not a traitor and you are certainly not one who sleeps with people to get what they want." Steve paused his rant to take in the sight of Clint who had, by now, sat back down. "Clint?"
The younger man turned to look at him with sorrowful, heartbreaking eyes. "I did though."
"What?" Steve asked, confused.
"I-I did sleep with someone." Clint replied brokenly. "But not to get to where I am. I swear. I...was actually truly in love with him." He trailed off, his grip tightening around the railing as he rested his forehead on it.
Steve slowly sank down next to the archer. All he could do was stare in shock at his friend. He couldn't help it. What he had just heard was...not what he was expecting. Clint turned to look at him and bowed is head in embarrassment and...shame?
"Please don't look at me like that. I know it's frowned upon to sleep or have a relationship with your boss but...I loved him." He closed his eyes tightly as he took several deep, shuddering breaths. "And I killed him." A lone tear escaped his eye and he roughly wiped it away, fighting back more.
Steve's eyes widened in realization as it dawned on him. Phil. This was the guy that Clint had been in love. This was the reason why Clint had seemed to take the news of his death worse than the others. Most importantly, this is why Clint still couldn't bring himself to admit that it wasn't his fault. Steve mentally kicked himself once more for not realizing it sooner. He was team leader. He should notice these things and then do everything in his power to help.
"Don't blame yourself for not noticing. Nobody did. Except for Natasha, Maria and Fury. And, to some extent, Colin and Moore. They never actually had any proof, but they always suspected. I-I'm sorry. I just...I.." Clint paused when he felt a gentle, reassuring hand land on his shoulder. He looked up into the eyes of Steve. Eyes that held nothing but understanding and reassurance. The archer blinked in surprise. He wasn't really sure what he had been expecting, but it certainly hadn't been this.
Sensing his confusion, Steve decided to speak. "You have nothing to apologize for. I don't care that you slept with Phil or even that he was another guy. If you loved him, then that's all that matters. And do you know what?" He paused a moment to make sure Clint was still looking at him. "It. Was. Not. Your. Fault. I don't blame you. The others don't blame you. And, I know for a fact that Phil sure as hell wouldn't blame you."
For the first time since that morning, Clint allowed a small smile to grace his lips. Steve grinned back as he squeezed the younger man's shoulder. He retracted his hand and leaned back as both he and Clint once more turned to enjoy the view. They stayed like that for hours in an even more comfortable silence than before. He knew there was more. He could see it in Clint's eyes but for now, Steve didn't push it. As they sat there however, he silently reflected on his talk with the archer. It bothered him how little he actually knew about Clint. Not that anyone on the team knew much about each other to begin with, but for some reason this bothered him a whole lot more. Sitting here and stealing the occasional glance at the man next to him, the super soldier vowed to spend more time with his entire team. Especially Clint. After all, they were now some sort of makeshift family so they might as well get to know each other as much as they could. He was torn out of his musings as said archer called out his name.
Steve glanced at him before turning back to the city. "Hmm?"
"I had no idea you even knew how to curse."